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Why I’ll Be Reading Rob Bell’s New Book

Trevin Wax
Trevin Wax
2013 27 Feb


Rob Bell has a new book coming out.

Chances are, you haven’t heard as much about this one as you did his last one, Love Wins. From the infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” tweet to the blog reviews that detailed the book’s biblical and theological inaccuracies, Love Wins benefited from Harper One’s ability to stir up a hornet’s nest of free publicity that catapulted Bell to the best-seller list in 2011.

The trailer for Rob’s new book gives a few ideas about his next step. Too little to know much for sure. The video seems to focus on our innate sense that “there’s something out there bigger than us” and our need to get in touch with “the divine.” I expect the book will continue Rob’s journey forward (or should we say back) to 19th and 20th century liberalism.

Many evangelical readers, bloggers and pastors will skip this one. After all, there’s only so much time in a day. Why read a book you figure will frustrate you?

All that considered, I will be reading Rob’s latest. Here’s why…

1. I want to improve my ability to communicate the truth.

Whatever you might think of his theology, the guy can teach. The reason his Nooma videos and book trailers have garnered so much attention (and a long line of parodies) is because they made an impact. They were well done, and their message resonated with people.

It’s true that the more I’ve read and watched Bell, the more I sense there’s more flash than substance in his message. (And where there is substance, I often disagree.)

That said, I want to improve my skills at communicating by watching how others get their message across. I want to see how they craft their stories, assemble their analogies, and wordsmith their prose.

Yes, I know “it is better to speak wisdom foolishly rather than to speak folly wisely” (Chesterton), but heaven help us if we have to choose between dull communication of unchanging truth or compelling communication of theological error.

Seeking to better communicate the beauty of truth helps me better comprehend the beauty of truth.

2. I want to better understand the culture I live in.

A lot of people will read this book. Perhaps not as many as Love Wins. (It would be hard to repeat the media blitz that came from Bell redefining hell.) Still, a good number of people will pick up this book… which tells us that something about it appeals to them.

We gain insights into our culture whenever we look at a popular book and ask, Why is this appealing? Ultimately, this question can lead to a more productive conversation than simply pointing out the reasons a book is harmful or wrong.

I’ve had some good conversations with folks who liked The Shack. Our discussions gave me insight into fatherlessness, the feeling of abandonment in times of suffering, the idea of a God who not only loves people, but is fond of them, etc.

At some point, if a book we see as “bad” resonates with people, we ought to consider the reasons why. Asking “why” gives us insight into our culture. It helps us get to know and love our neighbors. And it helps us anticipate the objections we will need to address in our presentation of the truth.

3. I want to be challenged to paint a better portrait.

There are a number of ways to counter theological error, not least of which is a long list of the errors set against their biblical refutation. But there’s another way to defend the truth – to create a portrait more compelling than the falsehood.

The Apostle Paul didn’t pick apart the Colossian heresy in detail. Yes, he addressed it here and there, but just enough to cause consternation on the part of biblical scholars trying to piece together just what he was battling. Instead, Paul’s strategy was to wow the Colossians with the enthralling beauty and all-encompassing authority of Jesus Christ.

The reason I gave so much space in Counterfeit Gospels to talking about the true gospel is because that is the best way to counter falsehood. Here’s why these counterfeits are attractive to you, but look at how much better the biblical gospel is. Put them together, and you’ll see why the true gospel wins at ultimately satisfying your heart’s longing. 

Rob Bell’s book may turn out to be a rehash of old school liberalism and its promise of “getting in touch with the divine.” So why read it? Because I want to be challenged to say, Why is the biblical portrait better? Why is the fiery, love-filled, glory-driven untamable God of the Bible so much more compelling, attractive, than the sentimental, sappy god so many in our culture find appealing?

It’s one thing to point at a book and say, That isn’t biblical. It’s another thing to say, Here’s why the biblical view is true and better. That’s the reason I’m working on a fiction book.

I expect Rob’s book will prod me toward better and more beautiful ways of presenting the truth. Maybe after I read it, I’ll blog about it too.

What about you?

Will you be reading Bell’s new book? Will you pass on it? Recommend it? Warn people about it?